Path to the draft: Wide receivers

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The Texans have enjoyed considerable success drafting wide receivers in their seven-year history. Discussion of that success begins and ends with the team's highest-drafted receiver, Andre Johnson (third overall in 2003). A three-time Pro Bowler, Johnson led the league in catches (115) and receiving yards (1,575) and was named first-team All-Pro last season.

More recently, the Texans have found productive receivers in later rounds of the draft. Slot receiver David Anderson was a seventh-round pick in 2006, head coach Gary Kubiak's first draft. Jacoby Jones was a third rounder in the 2007 draft, general manager Rick Smith's first with the Texans.

The Texans re-signed Anderson this offseason after he had a career year in catches (19), yards (241) and touchdowns (2). Jones, the team's punt returner, had only three catches last season, but the Texans aren't giving up on a player who was talented enough to compete for the No. 2 receiver spot as a rookie.

In Kevin Walter, the Texans have a No. 2 they couldn't be happier with. Walter has improved in each season in Houston and set career highs with 899 yards and eight touchdowns last year. Wide receiver André Davis, a deep threat who has averaged 17.3 yards per catch in the last two seasons, rounds out the receiving corps.

The 2009 draft is full of talented wideouts, several whom are projected to be picked in the first round. The Texans could surprise draft pundits and take one early, or they could find one in the later rounds to compete with former practice squad players Darnell Jenkins and Mark Simmons.

In an exclusive for HoustonTexans.com, Michael Lombardi of The National Football Post offers his Top 5 wide receiver prospects in the 2009 draft class. As the draft approaches, Lombardi, a 23-year veteran of NFL personnel departments, will list his Top 5 prospects at each position group.

Michael Lombardi's Top 5 Wide Receivers

1. Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (6-3, 214)A tall, well-built receiver who displays excellent quickness and body control in and out of his breaks, as well as excellent hands and awareness down the field. On the downside, he lacks elite deep speed and can't outrun every corner down the field. He came to the NFL Combine with a stress fracture in his left foot.

2. Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (6-1, 200)An explosive downfield threat that can consistently outrun defenders at the second level. Showcases good body control and coordination in and out of his routes and is very dangerous with the ball in his hands. He does lack ideal strength for the position and can be bullied at times in press coverage, but his versatility as a returner on special teams should help him in the NFL.

3. Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina (6-1, 212)A strong, physically built receiver with good body control and balance in and out of his breaks. Is one of the draft's top route runners and displays the ability to consistently separate over the middle of the field. He's a bear to bring down after the catch. However, he lacks the second gear to run away from defenders down the field and isn't the kind of vertical threat NFL scouts crave.

4. Percy Harvin, Florida (5-11, 198)Displays a rare first step with excellent short-area quickness. Gets to top speed instantly and is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. However, he's still developing as a wide receiver and might struggle gaining separation on the outside in the NFL. He isn't sharp out of his breaks and is still learning to beat press coverage.

5. Kenny Britt, Rutgers (6-3, 218)A tall, well-built receiver who displays good foot speed and body control in and out of his breaks. He does a nice job using his body to shield defenders and loves to attack the ball downfield. A willing, strong blocker who isn't afraid to stick in his head on crack-back blocks. He isn't the most natural of catchers and still lets the ball get into his body, and he won't outrun anyone.

Nick Scurfield's Top 5 Wide Receivers

1. Michael Crabtree: Texas Tech
Scurfield:Incredible production: 2,996 receiving yards, 40 touchdowns and two Biletnikoff Awards in two seasons after redshirting in 2006. Doesn't have great speed, but neither did a fellow by the name of Jerry Rice. Crabtree has a unique ability to separate from the defense and find seams, and he has the ball skills and fearlessness to make clutch catches in traffic.

2. Jeremy Maclin: Missouri
Scurfield:Maclin has big play written all over him as both a receiver and kick returner. Good height, good build, good ball skills, exceptional speed and athleticism. Big-time producer in college; had at least 1,000 receiving yards, 293 rushing yards, 11.7-yard punt return average and a 24-yard kick return average in both of his two college seasons.

3. Hakeem Nicks: North Carolina
Scurfield:Nicks isn't as fast as Maclin, Percy Harvin or Darrius Heyward-Bey, but he makes up for it with incredible hands and great coordination. He's a clutch player with nice size and superb athleticism. Easily one of the most polished receivers in the draft.

4. Percy Harvin: Florida
Scurfield:Harvin can be used in a number of ways, a la Saints running back Reggie Bush, and could become a nightmare for NFL defensive coordinators if an NFL team can figure out how to use him. That also might work against him on draft day – his specific role might not yet be defined. He also has a disconcerting health history. But there's no denying Harvin's speed and elusiveness – it's gamebreaking stuff.

5. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey: Maryland
Scurfield:I don't love 40 times as much as a lot of people, but a 4.3 is impressive nonetheless for a man of Heyward-Bey's size (6-1, 210). He has the physical tools to turn into a dangerous deep threat in the NFL. Still, that talent never translated into a 1,000-yard season in college.

Michael Lombardi* spent 23 years as a high-level executive in NFL personnel departments, working with the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos. He has spent 26 years evaluating college and pro football talent. He currently serves as one of the main contributors of The National Football Post.*

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